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Living in a Closet By: Mr. X
The New York Sun | Tuesday, September 14, 2004


You know me. If you don't, you've seen me...eating dinner in a midtown restaurant or walking up Broadway on a Saturday morning or sitting at the playground in the park as my child climbs the monkey bars. I take the subway to work every morning like thousands of other New Yorkers. I shop at Fairway and Zabar's. Maybe you've even been sweating on the next treadmill at the gym. I look like a hundred other guys around my age. I dress like them, too. And if you saw me, you would never guess my secret.

I am not gay. That is certainly no reason to hide. I am not a person of color. That prejudice should have been erased from our national consciousness decades ago. I don't carry any disease microbes that I am aware of. I don't even smoke.

But the information that I will now transmit has caused people to shout at me, brought dinner parties to an abrupt end on less then polite terms. It has even ended long friendships.

Here it is. I will just say it. I am a Republican.

It's not just that I am a Republican - it's more that I am a Republican who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It's the life-style and location I have chosen for myself that doesn't seem to fit the political viewpoints I believe.

It doesn't fit the very progressive elementary school that our child attends - where they do not observe any religious holidays: no Christmas, no Easter, no Chanukah and no Passover. Not even Halloween.

It doesn't fit the congregation where we choose to go to religious services every week, the uber-liberal one. And in that milieu, where people would consider themselves to be the most open, tolerant human beings on the planet, I have learned that openness extends only so far. I have learned that I have to keep quiet about certain things.

Like the fact I support the war in Iraq and have from the start, WMDs or no WMDs. I am thankful for tough, no-nonsense guys like Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and, yes, even and especially, God forbid, Attorney General Ashcroft. All of whom, I believe, are putting in long hours to protect us all. And perhaps the greatest of all blasphemies in my little world, I not only plan on voting for President Bush in November - I like him.

Can you begin to imagine how the above comments would be digested where I live?

The first sign of trouble came at a dinner with friends about two years ago when I casually mentioned that I had no qualms having the most vicious of the Taliban fighters and Al Qaeda operatives held at Guantanamo forever. The husband of a long-time friend, a very quiet and contemplative man, yelled at me, saying, "The United States is breaking every international law in the book."

"Haven't you ever heard of the Geneva Convention?" he screamed.

Actually, I had. I just think a document hashed out after World War I and already out of date for World War II doesn't quite fit today's war with Islamic terrorists. We haven't seen that couple since - in truth, they were really my wife's friends, so the damage was somewhat mitigated for me.

My oldest and closest friend from college is patient with me. He thinks I was permanently damaged, having stood four blocks from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He seems willing to ride this unfortunate political turn of mine until it runs its course. That's a real friend. We have even come to an understanding. We don't discuss politics anymore because we saw those conversations taking us into new, unfriendly waters in our 35-year friendship.

I'm encountering a level of sarcasm in the emails from another long-time friend - "They continue to tramp on the Constitution, but I guess you feel so secure that wouldn't bother you."

I've had people walk away from me in midsentence at parties. One, a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, moved to the opposite side of the room after we spoke but he kept stealing looks at me in a strange way throughout the evening - not just my observation, but confirmed by my wife.

Invitations have dried up. Other parents at my child's school are polite at drop-off but keep a safe distance from me as well. At times I feel like a leper. My wife, who does not see eye-to-eye with me politically, is, luckily, less upset with me and more annoyed with what she considers hypocritical correctness.

To be honest, I really don't see this as my problem - I know, I know, one of the signs of mental illness.

I believe an intolerance has settled over the land. I've seen this unwillingness or inability to hear another point of view before: in college during the Vietnam War and in cities like Madison, Santa Fe, and, of course, the Bay area. Sadly, I would now add my own neighborhood to the list.

It's not just intolerance. These are people who would never, in 3 million-years, consider themselves intolerant. Yet they seem completely unwilling to even hear my side. I only hear conversation-enders like "Bush is an idiot" or "It's all for oil" or "The family is in bed with the Saudis." I hear those a lot.

Oh, how could I forget? Mr. Bush really is an illegitimate president, having stolen the election in 2000. I hear that a lot, too.

Today, it's no longer Osama bin Laden who's the villain. It's Mr. Bush. It's not Al Qaeda who is trying to "take away our rights" by killing us. It's the Republicans.

This line of thinking knows no bounds. Case in point: One night, my wife and I went to hear Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner discuss their collaborative book on the Holocaust at the 92nd Street Y. It was the typically erudite crowd you would expect at this kind of event. But when the topic came to a discussion of real evil and how to teach this to children, Mr. Kushner explained that, in his view, real evil did not just exist 60 years ago in the guise of Adolf Hitler.

"Dare I say it?" Mr. Kushner asked aloud with a conspiratorial smile,"[What about] George W. Bush?"

With that, the audience burst into loud applause. Here, a relatively well-read and seemingly intelligent crowd just compared Mr. Bush to Hitler.

Besides demonstrating a monumental ignorance of both the past and present, the audience seemed to be responding in a kind of politically correct lockstep that is not dissimilar in my mind to the millions of young Chinese who blindly raised their little red Mao books in unison during the cultural revolution. Remember that great idea? Even my wife - the one who doesn't always agree with me - dropped her jaw at the Kushner comment and was upset all evening. I wanted to throw up. Clearly ignorance and a pack mentality trump common sense in my town these days.

On the day of a local election last spring, I made the mistake of engaging a woman in conversation on the M66 bus. After what I thought was a normal exchange about the difficulties in the world, she then started complaining that there were "actually armed soldiers" at her polling place downtown near City Hall. I asked her if she thought they might be there to protect her.

"No," she responded indignantly. "They were clearly there to intimidate."

Mind you, these are not the Trotskyites sitting at folding tables near Columbia University or the strange folks selling Lyndon LaRouche as a viable candidate.

I believe it goes further. I am no longer a person with another point of view. I am now the enemy.

I really wonder if New Yorkers could have fought World War II today in this present climate. If people can confuse Mr. Bush with Hitler, if they think soldiers are in this city to intimidate rather then patrol, then I believe the answer, sadly, may be no. And if this had been the case 60 years ago, we would have lost that war and the world with it.

So I walk the city streets and read buttons that say: "No blood for oil"- I want to ask these people how they are getting home tonight - or "Stop Globalism." My question: Have you shopped for anything over the past five years? If the answer is yes, then keep quiet. Or "Anyone but Bush" - the Reverend Al Sharpton? Ralph Nader? Howard Dean? Mr. Kerry? Two weeks ago, I saw an old lady on Broadway with a handmade sign on her walker reading: "Impeach Bush." She was treated like a local celebrity.

But I sit here, on the Upper West Side not far from Michael Moore's luxury apartment - the workingman's hero - eating bagels from H&H, and reading the open-minded and mainstream views of Noam Chomsky on the New York Times op-ed page. I keep quiet at dinner parties for the most part. My neighborhood is no longer the right fit ideologically, but I still like it here.

And there is the contentious side of me that looks forward to casting my vote in November for the GOP slate. Sure, I know I'll be overwhelmed in my district. But guess what? There's a big country out there. And New Yorkers, myself included, are the first to forget this.




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